Tuesday, 1 December 2020

November: the second lockdown, the first real glimmers of hope and news of a new Cornwall-led research centre

In the first week of the month regional lockdowns in England were replaced by a lockdown of the whole country, although not as stringent as the April lockdown, schools, colleges and universities remaining open. Nevertheless this was frustrating down here in Cornwall, where infection rates are particularly low.
On the fight against Coronavirus there was good news from USA that President-Elect Joe Biden has the pandemic as his top priority, something which his ungracious Presidential loser never had, despite the virus raging through the country.
And on the 9th of the month news of the first 'milestone' vaccine was announced, which preliminary results show can provide 95% protection. The developers, Pfizer and BioNTech, described it as "a great day for science and humanity" and a week later the US biotech firm Moderna  announced results on a vaccine with an efficacy of 94.5%. Early data released on the Sputnik V vaccine, developed in Russia, suggests that it is 92% effective. 
And just a week ago more good news, that the Oxford vaccine is almost ready to roll out, with very promising results, especially as it is cheaper and easier to store and transport than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. There is growing confidence that these vaccines can help end the pandemic, but there are still huge challenges ahead, despite some scientists suggesting life could be back to normal by spring. Once the vaccines are approved, the race will be on to overcome the biggest logistics challenge in history, to distribute them around the globe,
In October Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised to make Britain the "Saudi Arabia of wind", pledging that offshore wind will produce enough electricity to power every home by 2030 (posting of 12th October), and this month he put more pressure on 2030 by announcing that the UK will ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030, rather than the original 2040 (posting of 21 July 2019).
I am sure that the Government has given a great deal of thought as to where the critical metals will come from to do this (posting of 23rd November). Maybe they were aware of more good news from Cornwall this month. At the beginning of the month it was announced that Camborne School of Mines (CSM) will lead a pioneering new research centre, designed to revolutionise how crucial metals are extracted, used and reused in clean and digital technologies across the UK. 
The Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centre in Technology Metals is one of five new centres announced by the Government to explore how to create a circular economy for the technology metals, such as cobalt, rare earths and lithium, that are essential in all clean and digital technologies including electric cars and wind turbines. The centre aims to develop a new cycle, right from the first stages of extraction, to enable secure and environmentally-acceptable circulation of these crucial materials within the UK economy.
The project will be led by CSM's Professor Frances Wall, a regular at the Cornish Mining Sundowners, who presented a keynote lecture at MEI's Process Mineralogy '18 in Cape Town. Frances is a former Director of CSM and last year was the first ever female recipient of the Geological Society of London's William Smith Medal (posting of 8 March 2019).
Frances Wall (left) at Process Mineralogy '18 in Cape Town
The Centre will bring together experts from the Universities of Exeter, Birmingham, Manchester, Leicester and the British Geological Survey, as well as 40 partner companies and organisations. As well as researchers from the Camborne School of Mines, Exeter will also provide expertise from the Environment and Sustainability Institute, the Renewable Energy department and the Business School.
The Centre will apply circular economy principles to every aspect of mineral use in clean and digital technologies, including the initial extraction stage. The research will start with a case study of the industry ecosystem in Cornwall. With its exploration projects for the technology metals, lithium, tin and tungsten, the region has the opportunity to lead in whole systems circular economy actions for these metals. I am sure that we will hear a lot more about this at Sustainable Minerals '21 in June.
Finally a date to note for my diary- Good Friday April 2nd- as two days ago Boris Johnson said that he believed Easter would mark a "real chance to return to something like life as normal". Considering his previous promises and predictions, this is not the greatest of news.


  1. Such good news at the most pressing issues, HEALTH AND CRITICAL MINERALS-- keep the POSITIVE energy flowing, Barry

  2. Thanks Barry, another good summary, and according to Boris you can arrange a Maundy Thursday Sundowner. Good to hear about Lithium research at CSM, but no news on the "core activity" of training mining engineers?

    1. No I have heard nothing more of the Mining Degree Sam

    2. The University provides a service, and like any business, sidelines products which are not in demand. Going back to the analogy of disease, that the university stopped the Min.Eng. course is only the symptom, the cause is that not enough people want to study mining engineering to make a course economic (grades might be high, but low tonnage).

      It's a perception and awareness problem of the mining industry who have so far failed to promote the job and lifestyle, so they're running out of talents.

      In the same way that if a mine wants to keep producing metals and stay open, they have to do additional exploration to turn resource into reserve, they have to invest in making their business attractive to today's teenagers, to turn that manpower resource, into a reserve of students studying extractive subjects - something they seem to be failing at thus far.

  3. Thanks for a pertinent update on the pandemic, Barry. One has to sift through the press noise to get to the facts in this situation; the press have added a great deal of unecessary speculation and intrigue to the topic. This tends to be confusing. For my part I have worked more directly from peer-reviewed articles in the medical journals, where the facts and defensible conclusions may be found. To add you your useful post, it is a moot point as to when we will approach the desirable state of "herd immunity". All three vaccines use a two-stage innoculation. The annual production capability of the three vaccines Moderna, Pfizer and Oxford total approximately 4.8 billion doses, sufficient for at least 2.4 billion patients (plus the Oxford vaccine uses a half dose for the first jab, so their production will strech further). Let us say for argument's sake that we vaccinate a total of 2.8 billion patients in 2021. The world population is approximately 7.6 billion people, so that would be approximately 37% penetration worldwide. Is that sufficient for herd immunity? I think not, but localised areas may see this if their particlar area enjoys a higher vaccination rate. So unlike Mr. Johnson, I only expect partial return to normal in 2021. It is more likely that we will see the herd immunity in 2022, however it is possible that we will see some renaissance of the economy and social freedom in 2021. Best regards

    1. Thanks for your interesting views Norm. It will be good to come back and look at your comment again later next year.

  4. Great news re the Institutes, some necessary forward thinking in evidence there.
    Jim Finch, McGill University, Canada


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